Phillip Hal Sims (1886-1949) was one of the very best American Whist players and later a member of the highest ranked team, the Knickerbocker Whist Club team, at Auction Bridge. That team included some other great names of the time: Sydney Lenz, Winfield S. Liggett, George Reith and Ralph Leibenderfer.
Born in Selma,Alabama, Sims represented American banks in various foreign countries from 1906-1916, then, in 1917, while a member of the US Army Air Corps, he met Dorothy Rice, whom he married. Dorothy was also to be one of his major bridge partners in years to come. After World War One, Sims devoted most of his energies to sports and to bridge.As well as being a champion at all forms of bridge, he was an all-around games enthusiast and very talented at a variety of athletic pursuits. He won many medals for trapshooting and held a national record, posted consistent scores in the mid-seventies on the golf course, was a mean billiards player, and had won many tennis trophies in his younger, and slimmer, days.
By the advent of Contract, Sims was a giant of a man, both intellectually and physically. Standing at six feet four inches and weighing around 300 pounds, his sheer presence could cow the more faint-hearted of his opposition before a card was played.
His favourite intimidatory pose was to rock backwards and forwards in his chair a couple of times, take a mouthful of iced liquid from a tall glass, and then look challengingly at each opponent in turn, all the while his teeth audibly crunching the ice. If the above picture makes Sims sound a rather daunting personality, it should be added that he was actually a very popular man, a great raconteur and possessed of enormous personal charm.
And while he was not averse to taking what psychological advantage he could, Sims was also a very fine technical player and, as we have seen with Culbertson, such table manners were not frowned upon as might be the case today. He was an expert on percentages and the laws of chance and had a prodigious memory and sharp eye. He was noted for being able to spot any marked deck of cards used against him very quickly and on one occasion while playing in a tournament he reeled off his opponents’ cards exactly. Then he called the tournament director and explained that he had recognised the deal as one which had been played some days before and which had not been redealt.
Along with Willard Karn, David Burnstine and Oswald Jacoby, Sims formed a team which came to be known as the Four Horsemen. From 1931-33 they dominated the tournament scene, winning many of the major domestic events. When the Four Horsemen split up, Sims began to play more and more of his bridge in partnership with his wife. Despite the self-publicising efforts of Ely Culbertson, the Sims System still had the largest following among the expert community up to 1935. Then Hal and Dorothy played a big challenge match against the Culbertsons.
The 150-rubber match resulted in a convincing win for Ely and Jo by a margin of 16,310 aggregate points and the Sims System soon faded out of use among experts and the masses alike. Hal and Dorothy made a contrasting pair at the bridge table. Hal was a fine declarer and extremely accurate defender and took few chances, preferring to utilise his familiarity with the percentages of a situation.
In contrast, Dorothy was only a moderate card player and liked to ‘bid them up’. Her greatest strength was probably her knack of steering the auction so that her stronger partner tended to become declarer. Dorothy is also credited with introducing the psychic bid to the game. For a few years, psyching was very much in vogue and could be very effective when well timed. Of course, the bridge authorities did not police psyching situations in the way that they do today.
It was quite acceptable to make allowances for the possibility of partner’s having psyched in a way which would not be permitted now. So, the odds in favour of psyching were considerably better than they are today. Sims himself was not averse to psyching but he had the discipline to live with whatever situation his psych put him in and see it through.Take this hand where he partnered the formidable Waldemar Von Zedtwit.
When you psych your hope is that the hand belongs to your opponents and that you will disrupt their bidding.You do NOT want to hear a strong response from partner. Here, Sims opened the South hand with 1[ as dealer and Von Zedtwitz responded 3], game-forcing and showing slam interest. Sims rebid his spades and bid them a third time when Von Zedtwitz bid 4}. Finally, he was raised to 6[. Sims’ discipline in keeping the bidding open earned him a rich slam bonus. West led king and a second diamond, forcing dummy to ruff. Sims cashed the other spade honor, played a club to his king and drew the outstanding trumps, then ruffed out the hearts and got back to dummy with }A to cash them – no problem. After the Culbertson match, Sims played tournament bridge only occasionally, concentrating on his golf. He died of a heart attack while playing bridge at the Havana Country Club, where he and Dorothy used to spend their winters after the end of World War Two.